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Too close to home The White Family Maggie Gee 420pp Saqi Books How does it feel to be a problem James Baldwin was once asked Maggie Gees eighth novel deftly inverts the question exploring the problem of race as it originates and festers in the minds of present-day white Britons Touted as the most provocative contender on this years Orange Prize shortlist The White Family is an audacious groundbreaking condition-of-England novel that delves for the roots of xenophobic hatred and violence in the English hearth Alfred White is the keeper of Albion Park An army veteran he has mounted a 50-year campaign to enforce park rules keep order and hold the fort If it were left to him the park in Hillesden Rise - a fictitious part of London reminiscent of Willesden or Hackney - would have stricter rules This was England If in doubt keep them out Even the arrival of brightly plumed yellow foreign birds is unwelcome When Alfred has an event - an apparent stroke that turns out to be cancer - he and his wife May find their divided family at his hospital bedside Darren is the golden boy journalist who files columns from the US but has two broken marriages and a bulimic third wife Shirley who appalled her family by marrying a Ghanaian lecturer is now widowed and has taken up with a West Indian social worker Elroy Dirk a skinhead stagnating behind the counter of a newsagent is the graver family embarrassment unable to contain his hatred of coloureds old people and women While Alfred idolises his eldest son Darren it is Dirk who hangs on his words seemingly his true heir Other characters include Darrens schoolfriend Thomas a librarian and would-be writer Melissa the teacher he fancies George coughing his lungs out in his shop but loath to sell it to Asians Elroys brother Winston cottaging in the park gents but unable to admit he is
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